By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
It’s one of those unspoken signs that comes in a nod, or a certain cross-court look. It’s the green light for La Salle junior Daeshon Shepherd to take off. The 6-foot-5 guard out of Archbishop Wood sometimes loses track of just how high he is in the air until he looks down.
Daeshon Shepherd had 22 points and nine rebounds in La Salle's win over Bucknell on Tuesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
He has presented some highlight reel alley-oop jams this season, and continued his streak on Tuesday night by splashing two rim-hanging slam dunks on his way to a career-best 22 points in La Salle’s 69-57 victory over visiting Bucknell at the Tom Gola Arena at TruMark Financial Center.
The Explorers are 3-0 for the first time since their 2017-18 season, Dr. John Giannini’s last season as La Salle’s head coach.
Shepherd reached 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds. And while Shepherd’s elevating exploits excited the Gola Arena crowd, Explorers’ Hall of Fame coach Fran Dunphy said the fans have only seen half of what Shepherd can do in the air.
“He is freakish as an athlete,” Dunphy explained about Shepherd. “You see all the stuff in the games, you can’t even imagine all the stuff he comes up with in practice. Half these guys fall out with some of the stuff, are you kidding, I mean his head is way over the rim.
“It’s delightful to watch when it is done in a great way. He’s done well, but there are other games when he’s not as efficient and not as contributing, and that is where we have to continue to build on that.”
But Dunphy did throw Shepherd a resonating compliment. The veteran coach has more than his share of great players in his time at Penn, Temple and now La Salle. When asked if Shepherd could be the best pure athlete he ever coached, the Explorers’ head coach said, “Yeah, I think. I’ve coached some really good guys, some good athletes but (Shepherd) might be the highest jumper I’ve ever seen. He’s amazing.”
Shepherd certainly was Tuesday night.
Bucknell’s last lead was 22-21 with 3:29 left in the first half, buoyed greatly by former Lower Merion star and St. Joe’s Hawk Jack Forrest, who finished with a game-high 27 points. From there, La Salle outscored the Bison 17-7 to take control of the game—nine of the 17 came from Shepherd during that stretch.
Bucknell never got within double digits again.
“I feel like I’m trusted a little more by everyone, since I have a bigger role now,” Shepherd said. “I feel more comfortable on the floor with the guys. Playing together the last two years, I feel we’ve built more of a connection on the court and know what everyone wants to do, so I’m definitely comfortable on the court with the people I’m playing with.”
One of Shepherd’s alley-oops came from Khalil Brantley with 1:41 to play. With Brantley coming down the right wing with the ball, he just fired a pass cross court to the flying Shepherd for the slam, and giving the Explorers their largest lead of the game, 66-47.
Another plus for the Explorers was the play of 6-5 redshirt sophomore guard Andrés Marrero, coming off the bench to score 12 of La Salle’s 17 bench points. With the Explorers dragging through portions of the first half, it was a Marrero trey that tied it up at 17-17 with 5:17 left in the half, and another Marrero three-pointer with 3:24 left in the half that gave the Explorers the lead for good, 24-22.
The 57 points was a season low for Bucknell (1-3) and their new head coach, John Griffin III, the son of former St. Joe’s Hawks’ coach John Griffin II, and former St. Joe’s Prep star who went on to play for Bucknell.
“I thought we had some decent looks in the first half, we just didn’t shoot it very well, and in the second half, I thought our defense was terrific,” Dunphy said. “Overall, our defensive play was very good, and it’s something we certainly need to build on that.
“Bucknell is going to be okay, they’re going to be just fine. They are going to keep plugging away, but it was a real good win for us in many ways.”
The game did not exactly end the way Dunphy wanted. The Explorers were banged with two technical fouls in the last minute while holding a commanding 66-49 lead.
“I was really pleased how we played defensively in the second half, and I was a little disappointed in how we didn’t keep our poise late,” Dunphy said. “Shep was terrific. He made shots, he rebounded the ball, he was timely in his shot-making, and timely in his rebounding as well.
“His play is something I appreciated about the game. Again, I would rather we didn’t get out of sorts in the last two minutes or so.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.